Was Christopher Columbus Secretly Jewish?

Today we celebrate the life of Christopher Columbus in the United States.

Everybody knows the story of Columbus, right? He was an Italian explorer from Genoa who set sail in 1492 to enrich the Spanish monarchs with gold and spices from the orient. Not quite.

For too long, scholars have ignored Columbus’ grand passion: the quest to liberate Jerusalem from the Muslims.

During Columbus’ lifetime, Jews became the target of fanatical religious persecution. On March 31, 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella proclaimed that all Jews were to be expelled from Spain. The edict especially targeted the 800,000 Jews who had never converted, and gave them four months to pack up and get out.

The Jews who were forced to renounce Judaism and embrace Catholicism were known as “Conversos,” or converts. There were also those who feigned conversion, practicing Catholicism outwardly while covertly practicing Judaism, the so-called “Marranos,” or swine.

Tens of thousands of Marranos were tortured by the Spanish Inquisition. They were pressured to offer names of friends and family members, who were ultimately paraded in front of crowds, tied to stakes and burned alive. Their land and personal possessions were then divvied up by the church and crown.

Recently, a number of Spanish scholars, such as Jose Erugo, Celso Garcia de la Riega, Otero Sanchez and Nicholas Dias Perez, have concluded that Columbus was a Marrano, whose survival depended upon the suppression of all evidence of his Jewish background in face of the brutal, systematic ethnic cleansing.

Columbus, who was known in Spain as Cristóbal Colón and didn’t speak Italian, signed his last will and testament on May 19, 1506, and made five curious — and revealing — provisions.

Two of his wishes — tithe one-tenth of his income to the poor and provide an anonymous dowry for poor girls — are part of Jewish customs. He also decreed to give money to a Jew who lived at the entrance of the Lisbon Jewish Quarter.

On those documents, Columbus used a triangular signature of dots and letters that resembled inscriptions found on gravestones of Jewish cemeteries in Spain. He ordered his heirs to use the signature in perpetuity.

According to British historian Cecil Roth’s “The History of the Marranos,” the anagram was a cryptic substitute for the Kaddish, a prayer recited in the synagogue by mourners after the death of a close relative. Thus, Columbus’ subterfuge allowed his sons to say Kaddish for their crypto-Jewish father when he died. Finally, Columbus left money to support the crusade he hoped his successors would take up to liberate the Holy Land.

Estelle Irizarry, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University, has analyzed the language and syntax of hundreds of handwritten letters, diaries and documents of Columbus and concluded that the explorer’s primary written and spoken language was Castilian Spanish. Irizarry explains that 15th-century Castilian Spanish was the “Yiddish” of Spanish Jewry, known as “Ladino.” At the top left-hand corner of all but one of the 13 letters written by Columbus to his son Diego contained the handwritten Hebrew letters bet-hei, meaning b’ezrat Hashem (with God’s help). Observant Jews have for centuries customarily added this blessing to their letters. No letters to outsiders bear this mark, and the one letter to Diego in which this was omitted was one meant for King Ferdinand.

In Simon Weisenthal’s book, “Sails of Hope,” he argues that Columbus’ voyage was motivated by a desire to find a safe haven for the Jews in light of their expulsion from Spain. Likewise, Carol Delaney, a cultural anthropologist at Stanford University, concludes that Columbus was a deeply religious man whose purpose was to sail to Asia to obtain gold in order to finance a crusade to take back Jerusalem and rebuild the Jews’ holy Temple.

In Columbus’ day, Jews widely believed that Jerusalem had to be liberated and the Temple rebuilt for the Messiah to come.

Scholars point to the date on which Columbus set sail as further evidence of his true motives. He was originally going to sail on August 2, 1492, a day that happened to coincide with the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, marking the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples of Jerusalem. Columbus postponed this original sail date by one day to avoid embarking on the holiday, which would have been considered by Jews to be an unlucky day to set sail. (Coincidentally or significantly, the day he set forth was the very day that Jews were, by law, given the choice of converting, leaving Spain, or being killed.)

Columbus’ voyage was not, as is commonly believed, funded by the deep pockets of Queen Isabella, but rather by two Jewish Conversos and another prominent Jew. Louis de Santangel and Gabriel Sanchez advanced an interest free loan of 17,000 ducats from their own pockets to help pay for the voyage, as did Don Isaac Abrabanel, rabbi and Jewish statesman.

Indeed, the first two letters Columbus sent back from his journey were not to Ferdinand and Isabella, but to Santangel and Sanchez, thanking them for their support and telling them what he had found.

The evidence seem to bear out a far more complicated picture of the man for whom our nation now celebrates a national holiday and has named its capital.

As we witness bloodshed the world over in the name of religious freedom, it is valuable to take another look at the man who sailed the seas in search of such freedoms — landing in a place that would eventually come to hold such an ideal at its very core.

Desecrating the Memoryof César Chávez


My article first appeared in LatinoRebels.com.




Silva bigger

In 1971, César Chávez moved his home and the headquarters of the United Farm Workers union from Delano to La Paz, a property encompassing 187 acres in the Tehachapi Mountains of eastern Kern County, California.   Kern is the fifth-largest county in California with nearly fifty percent of its population of Mexican-American descent.   When he died in 1993, as was his wish, César Chávez was laid to rest in La Paz.

On October 2012, President Barack Obama traveled to Kern County to establish the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument  to honor a leader determined to bring the concerns of Latinos to the forefront of the national political debate.   Through his grassroots efforts to fight injustice in all its forms, Chávez became a national icon, inspiring national political power through his slogan “Sí, se puede” — Spanish for “Yes, you can”.

President Obama Announces Cesar Chavez National Monument

President Obama Announces Cesar Chavez National Monument

What would César Chávez say if he knew that in the city of Bakersfield, less than thirty minutes from La Paz, Latinos are being systematically terrorized by Kern County police?

His first question would undoubtedly be “Why are the police doing this?”

“Because we can,” Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood mocks him in the cartoon above, smirking as he holds illegally confiscated cell phones bearing evidence of his thugs beating an innocent Latino to death.

The second question Cesar Chavez would ask is “Why do Americans know the names Trayvon Martin and Rodney King, yet are oblivious to the names of Jose Lucero and David Silva?”

Next week begins the murder trial in the death of Trayvon Martin, whose name and photograph in a hoodie are easily recognized by Americans.  The public’s familiarity with Trayvon came into the national consciousness when a number of high-profile African American citizens — including Reverend Al Sharpton, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and President Barack Obama called for a full investigation.

Rodney King’s beating by officers of the L.A.P.D. is another such incident that gained national prominence due to the media’s release of a citizen’s videotaped footage of the incident.  There was a national outcry for a criminal conviction, and even former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley said at the time “The men who beat Rodney King do not deserve to wear the uniform of the L.A.P.D.”

Rodney King Almost Beaten to Death by L.A.P.D.

Rodney King Almost Beaten to Death by L.A.P.D.

That brings us to the stories of Jose Lucero and David Silva, two 33-yearold men living in Bakersfield, California, about thirty minutes from La Paz.   As you will soon discover, Jose and David’s deaths resulted from the failure of leadership by Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood who is a disgrace to all the good men and women who wear the law enforcement uniform.

Kern County Sheriff deputies Ryan Greer, Jonathan Juden, Daniel Willis, and Angelos Gonzalez went to Jose Lucero’s home on December 18, 2010, in response to repeated 911 calls from Jose claiming that a female friend was being assaulted in Lancaster.

Jose, a recovering drug addict who struggled with mental health issues, was living at the home of his elderly parents, Florencio and Lilia Lucero.  Prior to that day, reports indicated he was on the road to recovery, but on that day he had relapsed.  Witnesses testified that Jose appeared to be mentally unstable, either as the result of drug use or a prior head injury.  The deputies decided to take Jose Lucero into custody for abuse of the 911 system.

Their arrest strategy was to pepper spray him, beat him with batons, and electrocute him with their Taser guns.  The decedent’s elderly parents were horrified as they witnessed the entire incident.

Pepper spray causes intense pain, involuntary closing of the eyes, considerable tearing, as well as temporary paralysis of the larynx which causes subjects to lose their breath.

The Taser X26 used by the Kern County deputies deliver a 50,000 volt charge.  It uses compressed nitrogen to propel a pair of “probes”—aluminum darts tipped with stainless steel barbs connected to the X26 by insulated wires—toward a person at a rate of over 160 feet per second.

Taser Barb Need to Be Removed in a Hospital with a Scalpel

Taser Barb Need to Be Removed in a Hospital with a Scalpel

The manufacturer maintains that the full 50,000 volts do not enter the victim’s body; rather, it claims the X26 only delivers a peak voltage of 1,200 volts into the body, and an average current of 2.1 milliamps for 5 seconds.  As a comparison, the electric chair administers 2,450 volts at about 5 amps for 20 seconds.

When the deputies became violent, Jose hid behind his father for protection, but the police ordered Florencio Lucero to step away, making Jose an easy target for two of the deputies to shoot Jose with their Taser guns.

Taser Gun

Taser Gun

The impact is as powerful as it is swift.  The electrical impulse from a Taser instantly overrides the victim’s central nervous system, paralyzing the muscles and rendering the target limp and helpless.  In addition, removal of the barbed probes requires hospitalization so that a doctor can remove the probes with a scalpel.

Medical experts report that just one five second Taser jolt can set off irregular heart rhythms, leading to cardiac arrest.  Individuals with mental problems, heart conditions, or abusing certain drugs have a higher risk of death.  Once the steel barbs are lodged on the body, the officer can deliver continued electricity by pulling the device’s trigger again.

Click on the picture below to see a video of a dozen police officers in training being shot — just once — with a Taser gun during a training session.  Note that the barbs did not enter their skin but pierced a vest on their back.

Police Being Shot with Taser During Training

Police Being Shot with Taser During Training

This training video shows the painful result of just one Taser blow, even when the victim is held in the protective grasp of two colleagues.  For safety reasons, most police department policies recommend no more than four jolts with a Taser.

According to data collected by Amnesty International, at least 500 people in the United States have died since 2001 after being shocked with Tasers.  In November 2007, the UN Committee Against Torture released a statement saying “use of Taser X26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constitutes a form of torture, and… in certain cases, it could also cause death.”

Jose Lucero, who was unarmed and could easily have been taken down by four police officers, was electrocuted with the Taser 29 times, within a six minute period.  And no, that is not a typographical error:  29 times.  At 5 seconds per Taser, that is a total electrocution time of 2 minutes and 25 seconds! What kind of sick person would do that to another human being?

And if you think it couldn’t possibly get worse, the police pummeled Jose mercilessly  with their batons  33 times which, coincidentally, is the number of times Rodney King was clubbed by the police.

The typical police baton is simply a steel pipe, the use of which can have lethal consequences.  Like brass knuckles, it can crack your head open, break your bones, and cause permanent injury to your bodily organs.  In the case of Rodney King, the bones holding his eye in its socket were broken, and he suffered eleven broken bones at the base of his skull.

Typical Police Batons are Just Like Steel Pipes

Typical Police Batons are Just Like Steel Pipes

These four thugs masquerading as law enforcement officers certainly have nothing on the most heinous torturers of our times. Not surprisingly, their actions are aided and abetted by Sheriff Youngblood’s assurances that this “arrest” was handled in accordance with department policy.

Instead of excising this malignant tumor from the police force by filing criminal charges against all four deputies, he allows the cancer of police brutality to metastasize it the culture of the sheriff’s office by doing nothing.

Jose’s parents awaited the impartial results from the coroner’s office on the autopsy and cause of death. The Coroner’s Office is not limited to the examination of the deceased, but it also includes interviews with family members and other witnesses to assist with the determination.

Imagine the surprise of Jose’s parents when the coroner reported their son’s official cause of death was cardiac arrest following police restraint in association with methamphetamine intoxication.

But now get this.  Who do you think is the Kern County Coroner?

Humor me.  Just take one guess?

That’s right, Sheriff – Coroner – Public Administrator Donny Youngblood.  All three positions were consolidated in 1995 by the Board of Supervisors.  Coroner Youngblood was elected in November 2006 to wear these three hats, after retiring in 2002 after thirty year as a Commander in the Kern County Sheriff’s department.

Coroner Youngblood decides the cause of death of the innocent victims who die while in the police custody of Sheriff Youngblood. Nice.  It’s like Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde coming to life in Kern County.

Donny Youngblood

And for a judge and jury, this was just too ridiculous a lie to swallow.

In November 2012, after three and a half weeks of trial and five hours of deliberation, a unanimous jury found that the County of Kern, the Kern County Sheriff’s Department, Deputy Ryan Greer, Deputy Daniel Willis, Deputy Angelo Gonzalez and Deputy Jonathan Juden were liable to Florencio and Lilia Lucero for the wrongful death of their son.  For witnessing this brutality in their home, the court found negligent infliction of emotional distress resulting in an award of $4.5 million in total damages.

And what happened to the four deputies involved in this brutality?  Nothing.  According to Sheriff/Coroner Youngblood they did nothing wrong, so all the deputies stayed on the force.

And that’s how on the night of May 7, 2013, Deputy Ryan Greer met David Sal Silva, the 33-year-old father of four beautiful young girls between the ages of two and ten.  One day Deputy Greer should explain to Makayla, Catelyn, Chelsea, and Eli why he and his gang of savages beat their father to death for simply passing out on the sidewalk after a very tough day.

David Silva with the mother of his four daughters

David Silva with the mother of his four daughters

Ruben Ceballos awoke around midnight to sharp cracks and piercing screams.  The 19-year-old rushed to the kitchen door and saw Kern County sheriff’s deputies beating David Silva in the head as he lay still on the ground.

“I saw two sheriff’s deputies on top of this guy, just beating him,” Ceballos said. “He was screaming in pain … asking for help. He was incapable of fighting back — he was outnumbered, on the ground.  They just beat him up.”

And then there’s 34-year-old Salina Quair who was just leaving the Kern Medical Center, and saw David die.  It turns out that David had sought help a little earlier from the substance abuse center at the Kern Medical Center.   Unfortunately, a security guard saw that he was intoxicated and asked him to leave.  David barely made it across the street before passing out.

Ironically, Salina called the police on the police.

Not only did Salina witness the savage execution and call 911, she also videotaped it with her phone and testified that the deputies were beating David to death with their batons when he was already unconscious.

“There’s a man laying on the floor and your police officers beat the shit out of him and killed him,” said Salina. “I have it all on video camera.”

She continued shouting into the phone:

“I am sitting here on the corner of Flower and Palm right now and you have one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight Sheriffs. The guy was laying on the floor and eight Sheriff’s ran up and started beating him up with sticks. The man is dead laying right here, right now.”

Another witness, Jason Land, said he was so traumatized after seeing the murder, he didn’t know what to do. Jason said the police acted like “animals” when they brutally beat David to death right in front of him.  He went to a local news station to tell his account.  A few hours later, police arrested him and charged him with being on PCP, which was a lie, and according to Jason the deputies tried to intimidate him to change his story about what he witnessed.

According to other witnesses, the first deputy to arrive found David passed out on the ground and gave him a knuckle rub on the chest and ordered him to wake him up.  He got up on his knees, but being intoxicated he then fell on his face.  How could anyone possibly interpret his inability to get up as “resisting arrest”?

So who did this deputy call for back-up to help him with this passed out unresponsive man resisting arrest?  The back-up was a K-9 German Shepherd police dog released from his car in the attack mode that ferociously sunk his sharp teeth into David’s flesh, who was only wearing a t-shirt, shorts and sneakers.  The autopsy revealed deep bites on his legs, arms, hands and torso.  Even for days after the attack you could see David’s blood all over the ground.

German Shaphard Police Dog

German Shaphard Police Dog


In Seconds a Police Dog Can Rip Your Skin Off

In Seconds a Police Dog Can Rip Your Skin Off

This unprovoked attack by a vicious animal must have suddenly awoken David from his drunken stupor because he began to fight for his life by trying to choke the dog before it killed him.  And that’s when the eight other “law enforcement” officers arrived to savagely kick him and beat him over the face, head, and neck with their bone crushing steel batons.

The police department identified  the seven deputies involved in David’s death as Sgt. Douglas Sword, Deputy Ryan Greer, Deputy Tanner Miller, Deputy Jeffrey Kelly, Deputy Luis Almanza, Deputy Brian Brock, and Deputy David Stephens. Two California Highway Patrol officers also responded, but haven’t been identified.  All officers are still working.

Silva’s uncle described what he saw after seeing his nephew’s body at the coroner’s office. “Bruised up face, chin, ear, busted lip, broken nose, black eye, all marks all over his face,” he explained.

It is completely absurd that these animals have not been arrested, strictly on the testimony of the many eye witnesses to this completely unprovoked execution of an intoxicated man passed out on the sidewalk.

The cover up began immediately after the crime.

At 2 a.m. deputies began knocking on witnesses’ doors, detaining them for hours and demanding they turn over the footage on their cellphones.  Is anyone really surprised that the most incriminating videos are missing from the mobile phones when they were finally returned?

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood held a triumphant press conference on May 23rd during which — contradicting the eye-witnesses — he said that only three deputies delivered blows to David Silva and none to the head or neck.

Sheriff Youngblood declared everything about Silva’s “arrest” was handled in accordance with department policy.  Coroner Youngblood declared David Silva’s death as “accidental,” with the official cause of death listed as “cardiac hypertension.”

These absurd conclusions are no more believable then those made when Jose Lucero was tortured to death.

Silva father said "As far as I am concerned Youngblood is an accomplice to murder."

Silva father said “As far as I am concerned Youngblood is an accomplice to murder.”

The day after Youngblood held that press conference, Silva’s father Sal went on Los Angeles radio to express his outrage: “Although they murdered my son, they say, well, he died of natural causes.  Really? Don’t believe your eyes, don’t believe your ears, don’t believe the witnesses, don’t believe anything, but believe what the sheriff, our good sheriff, has to say.  As far as I am concerned [the sheriff] is an accomplice to murder.”

Fortunately, in the case of David Silva there are numerous impartial and credible eye witnesses who even, without the help of their sabotaged videotaped footage, can recount in their own words what they saw and heard that night.

It’s sad that this evil lurks in the shadows of the César Chávez National Monument, and we all desecrate the memory of his life by doing nothing.

César Chávez will be honored in a week-long series of events between June 3 and June 8, 2013, in Riverside, California culminating in the unveiling of a memorial and statue in his likeness this Saturday.  It will join existing statues there of other civil rights icons such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi.

César E. Chávez Memorial, created by sculptor Ignacio Gomez

If his life is to stand for something, it should stand as a beacon for our country’s citizens to take action against injustice, and especially against the evil residing in Kern County , which affects everyone, not only Latinos.

To honor the memory of César Chávez you can watch this two-minute video (click on the picture below) taken in May 1972 on the 19th day his 24-day hunger strike at Santa Rita Center in Arizona.  He is joined by Coretta Scott King to link the solidarity and commitment of the civil rights movement to the cause of Latino farmworkers to organize an effort to recall then-Gov. Jack Williams and protest an Arizona law limiting the rights of farmworkers.

Cesar Chavez and Coretta Scott King

Cesar Chavez and Coretta Scott King

You see Coretta, Cesar, and other African American leaders and Latinos are joined together singing hand in hand, committed to social change through peaceful non-violence.  “Non-violence is not inaction.  It is not discussion.  It is not for the timid or weak… Non-violence is hard work.  It is the willingness to sacrifice.  It is the patience to win,” César Chávez reminds us.  You also see the movement’s slogan, “Sí, se puede” — “Yes, you can,” on the walls, the same slogan President Barack Obama adopted as the motto for his presidential campaign.

And to honor the last moments of Jose Lucero and David Silva’s valiant fight for their lives against overwhelming odds with a posthumous eulogy, I dedicate to them “If We Must Die” by Jamaican-American poet Claude McKay.   It was written about the 1919 Harlem race riots and served as a call to action to all African American men that it was time for them to stand up for their rights.

If We Must Die

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

This article was originally published on LatinoRebels.com.


Jessica Landeros and her husband, Casey, live outside Milwaukee with their two young children.   She is currently writing her memoir, UNIDENTIFIED FIGHTING OBJECT: How One Woman Changed Combat, and How Combat Changed Her

Jessica Landeros and her husband, Casey, live outside Milwaukee with their two young children. She is currently writing her memoir, UNIDENTIFIED FIGHTING OBJECT: How One Woman Changed Combat, and How Combat Changed Her

When Jessica Landeros raised her right hand and joined the Navy at age nineteen  following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she had no idea she would become a three-tour combat veteran, a wounded warrior, and a pioneer for equality. The first American woman to serve in combat during the Second Battle of Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, Landeros helped pave the way for the recent decision to officially allow women on the front lines in all wars beginning in 2016.

As part of a construction battalion tasked with building bases and other infrastructure in a military theater, five-foot-two, 100-pound Landeros was tapped for two stereotypical unfeminine jobs:  plumber and convoy machine gunner. Embedded for months at a time in places most people only read about – often as the only Western woman among hundreds of men – she witnessed countless acts of heroism and leadership. But one day during her final deployment, Landeros herself had to step up and lead in the line of fire.

Part of Landeros’ team’s job was providing nighttime security escorts for supply vehicles and personnel throughout the perilous Al Anbar Province. But one summer day in 2006, the team was assigned daytime security detail for a crew repairing a critical road damaged by bombs. Three hours into the mission, a loud explosion and a plume of black smoke erupted less than twenty- five meters from Landeros’ vehicle, where she was manning her turret gun.

“I jerked my head around in time to see a Hum-V tire reach its apex at fifteen feet skyward,” she recalls. “Then I saw bodies writhing in the sand like fish out of water; two teammates had been hit.  One of them was pulling a knee to his chin; the other was flailing as though his whole body was suffering at once.  Even today I can’t drown out their screams.  I felt my chest tighten as I flashed back to an earlier deployment when one of my teammates, my friend, lost his life to a mortar round.  But I quickly snapped back to reality and forced myself to look away from my fallen colleagues and remember my mission: provide security for the road workers and now for the wounded and the medics who were moving them to safety.  I grabbed my radio and shouted to the gunners to keep their sector of fire.”

Having successfully conducted her life “Mission First” during her previous two combat tours, Landeros understood the weight of her demeanor at this critical moment. She had recently transferred to this battalion of 625 personnel – none of whom had experience in the region.  As potshots from AK-47s came in from the field, Landeros suddenly realized that the guys inside her truck had not moved since the commotion started.  She looked down to find three frozen, wide-eyed men just beginning to thaw. She knew they needed to be engaged to stay safe and sane.

Landeros shook one by the shoulder and asked him to man the gun. He nodded resolutely and moved into position. Then she suggested that the second teammate help move equipment from the downed truck to their vehicle for safekeeping. He took off eagerly.  She turned to the third.

“Ryan, were the guys still moving when they were hauled off?” she asked, already knowing the answer.


“That’s good,” Landeros replied. “A moving person is a living person. They’ll be okay. Hurry, make room for their equipment.”

It didn’t take long for the men to complete Landeros’ petty assignments, and she soon noticed that the distractions were quickly wearing off; they were slipping into the dangerous territory of their own dark thoughts. She knew from experience that it was too soon for them to let their emotions take hold. If they were going to fulfill their mission, she needed them to stay in the moment and not become numbed by grief or fear.

“So I did what any smart woman would do:  I appealed to their machismo,” Landeros said.  “I reminded them how scared the poor road workers were, and how we were able to handle it because we were used to this stuff.  I convinced them it was our responsibility to remain calm and in control, because the workers were terrified.  And it worked.  You could literally see their chests swell and their focus return. That was all it took to occupy them until we made it safely back to Camp Fallujah a few hours later.”

Anyone who has been in the military will tell you that one of the first things you learn in boot camp is that the mission is everything.  Without it, people are left to flounder – and ultimately to fail.  However, as Landeros’ experience demonstrates, missions are more than just a set of objectives.  A mission cannot be accomplished without people, and people cannot work to full capacity if they are not tasked in a way that challenges them and channels their strengths.

As a woman on the front line, Jessica is the embodiment of an extraordinarily powerful leadership trait:  the ability, despite societal and historical barriers, to articulate the mission and instill in others the passion to get the job done. It is that ability to issue the challenge and set the stage for its successful completion that is the mark of a true leader – a leader like Jessica Landeros.

Nelson Mandela: Leading with Dignity

Last week’s footage of a dazed and frail-looking 94-year-old Nelson Mandela surrounded by laughing politicians in his living room was condemned on social media as an undignified public relations stunt.

South African President Jacob Zuma and his cronies were criticized for exploiting the Mandela brand as they gear up for the upcoming election.  “Mandela survived 27 years in prison only to become a prisoner of the ANC marketing machine,” said one South African on Twitter.

President Zuma insists this was a sincere effort to show the world that the ailing leader is still alive.

Clearly, Mandela’s health is deteriorating.  He’s been hospitalized three times in the past four months for a recurring lung infection.  Each time, we hold our collective breath as we continue to reflect on his life story.

It was 1964 when Mandela disembarked on infamous Robben Island where he would spend 18 of his 27 years behind bars.  Perhaps as a warning to all those that now seek to exploit his name, Mandala wrote in his autobiography that “Prison and the authorities conspire to rob each man of his dignity.  In and of itself, that assured that I would survive, for any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose because I will not part with it at any price or under any pressure.”

When Mandela got off the boat, he refused to jog to the prison gate as was expected.  A prison guard warned him that unless he obeyed immediately, he would be killed and his family would never know about it.  He continued to walk.

Minutes later, Mandela courageously stood his ground when a prison officer he’d dared to question moved to hit him. “If you so much as lay a hand on me, I will take you to the highest court in the land, and when I finish with you, you will be as poor as a church mouse,” Mandela warned.  The officer stared in astonishment and backed off.

It was while behind bars that Mandela learned his most valuable lessons in leadership.  As he himself has acknowledged, prison was the crucible that shaped his character.  He went in an angry, immature man convinced that the only way to free his people was through guerrilla warfare.  Yet he learned that revenge through violence brought only fleeting satisfaction.  By studying his jailers, Mandela discovered he had far more in common with his white countrymen then he thought.   In 1990, he came out of prison with the wisdom that forgiveness, compassion, and respect were the most powerful weapons in his arsenal.

The amazing thing is, Mandela didn’t just profess these lofty ideals – he embodied them, leading by quiet example even in the most commonplace of circumstances.  Rutgers Professor Ron Quincy witnessed Mandela’s leadership skills in action while spending time at Mandela’s side as the executive director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

In 1993, the King Center undertook a project working with a group of American students and their South African counterparts to help train 50,000 South Africans in the upcoming election process.

“We hosted Nelson Mandela at the King Center in Atlanta as part of this effort and then I had the privilege of flying back with him to Johannesburg,” recalled Quincy.

At one point during the 18-hour South African Airways flight, Mandela and Quincy were conversing in the aisle when a male flight attendant demanded that Mandela sit down so dinner could be served.

“I was shocked.  The white male attendant shouted at Mandela in a loud, rude, and disrespectful manner.  I was hardly able to restrain my own anger because I’m a part of this humiliation,” recalled Quincy, who decided to hold his tongue, opening the door for a powerful lesson in leadership.

“Mandela then turns and points to me and says, ‘Actually sir, I’m with him,’ shifting the blame to me as if I was the culprit, the important American.  He said it jokingly in a mischievous way, grinning with a wink of the eye, completely disarming the situation and returning to his seat.”

Quincy watched as this man of enormous international stature chose to sit down quietly.

Mandela later told Quincy that when he was active in the African National Congress as a young man, “I learned that the leaders who last are those who understand that every battle is not the end of the war.  That little incident was not the war.  It was not even important, absolutely of no consequence.”

Mandela cautioned Quincy to “never take your condition so seriously that it impedes you from accomplishing your personal mission, which, in my case, is a free democratic election in South Africa.”

Less than a year later, Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected black president, his landslide victory a glowing testament to his courage and perseverance.

Effective leaders display the same brand of confident humility, dignity and courage under pressure that Mandela exemplifies.  They demonstrate a relentless focus on executing their mission, refusing to be distracted by the petty jealousies, insecurities, and prejudices of those around them.

What last week’s public relations stunt demonstrated is that despite his obvious fragility and old age, politicians still want to bask in the radiant glow of Nelson Mandela’s character.  If only his powerful dignity could seep into their souls.


Believe In Yourself and Stand By Your Convictions

To believe in yourself you have to develop your own convictions and stand firmly by them. Though it may sometimes be very difficult and painful, you must find your own path and follow it.

One of the reasons I went to the U.S. Air Force Academy was because I wanted to be independent of my father.  By getting into the Air Force Academy, which I was able to do through a full academic scholarship, I didn’t have to rely on my father to help pay my tuition.

If my father paid my tuition, I would have had to answer to my dad, “El Tigre,” about my grades, and everything else and I did not want that.  My desire to attend the Air Force Academy was also fueled by the challenge of succeeding at a school that is one of the toughest in the United States.

Obtaining recommendations for my application to the Air Force Academy was an important part of the process.  I asked my high school principal for one, and he told me that he couldn’t recommend me because I wasn’t involved in my high school’s Junior ROTC program; I’d be taking away a spot at a service academy from someone who was more deserving.

To get that recommendation, I went from shooting spitballs at the Junior ROTC cadets to being one of those guys parading around in boots and uniform, having spitballs shot at me, and being mocked by my own friends.  Much to my surprise however, not only did I like Junior ROTC, but I also discovered that I was good at it.

I ended up joining the elite Rangers program.  The challenge of doing well in that program excited me and pushed me forward. After two years of Junior ROTC, I achieved the highest rank possible. I finally earned the recommendation that I had originally sought from my principal.

Although my father wasn’t happy with me being in the military, he put a lot of weight and credence in the character traits such as discipline, honor and integrity.  There was no better place than the Air Force Academy to build those traits.

Years later, my father came to respect my decision to join the military.  Family members were invited to a ceremony at the White House for White House Fellows and got to meet President Reagan.  Because of my father’s keen interest in American government and history, he was as excited as I was to be there.  My father knew I would never have been a White House Fellow if I hadn’t gone to the Air Force Academy and joined the military.

Through all of my successes and setbacks, I believed in myself.  Could I have taken an easier path?  Yes.

Did I have to fight my father and work incredibly hard to gain admission to the U.S. Air Force Academy?  Yes.

Did I have total faith in my ability to achieve this goal? Absolutely.

Would I have gone as far without believing in myself and without a burning desire to succeed?  Absolutely not.


Actress and screenwriter Nia Vardalos isn’t the prettiest woman in Hollywood, but certainly is someone who believes in herself.  She wrote the screenplay for the hit movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  She also stars in the movie, but that wasn’t necessarily going to be the case if Vardalos had left her fate in others hands. Vardalos refused to sell her screenplay to those interested in making it unless she was allowed to star in it.  She believed in herself as an actress and was willing to risk losing a short-term windfall so she could achieve her long-term goal.

Success is about pursuing your passions, not someone else’s dreams. Although your parents may want you to pursue a safe and traditional path to their version of success, it may not be the one that’s right for you.

And if you’re a parent, remember that if you have done your job well, the best you can hope for is that your children are happy with whatever it is they do in life, regardless of their job or who they marry.

Success is not necessarily measured by someone’s bank account, but by the depth of their soul and the contribution they make to others.

Believe in yourself and stand by your convictions!

Teamwork is the Difference Between Success and Failure

Although teamwork usually isn’t a life-or-death situation, it often spells the difference between success and failure in business.

A company with many talented employees working separately isn’t nearly as successful as one where talented workers work together and believe in the mission.

Colin Powell tells a story about Napoleon Bonaparte. The French general would occasionally mingle with his troops. Bonaparte would ask the lowest-ranking soldier to state the overall mission of the army. Bonaparte believed that if the mission were clear, the soldier would be able to understand and explain it.

A successful team knows its mission, whether it’s to rescue nine trapped miners or to be the best data mining company in the business. The team leaders must keep the group focused on the mission.

Leaders can also bring out the desire and passion in the members of a team. The leader arouses passion and helps put fire in the members’ bellies. As Price Pritchett said, “Once you’ve pointed people in the right direction, and triggered a powerful internal drive, you need to get the hell out of the way.”

Joe Gibbs, the former football coach who now oversees a Winston Cup racing team, knows a great deal about team building. In his book, Racing to Win, Gibbs discussed the difficulties of building a team when you’re motivating people with very different personalities. Some are motivated by praise, while others need to be scolded from time to time.

Most of us work harder when we’re working as a team. We know others are depending on us and we don’t want to let them down. You should feel that same sense of obligation, whether it’s a coworker or the members of your family who are depending on you. If you don’t feel that sense of obligation to your employer, you need to find another place to work.


Have you ever looked up to watch a flock of honking geese flying overhead and wondering why they always fly in a ‘V’ formation? Have you every thought of these geese as role models?

Milton Olson, author of Lessons from Geese, makes a compelling case that five behaviors of geese during migration can be translated into leadership lessons for our lives.

1. First behavior: “As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an ‘uplift’ for the bird following. By flying in a ‘V’ formation, the whole flocks adds 71% greater flying range than if the bird flew alone.”

First lesson: “People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.”

2. Second Behavior: “Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the ‘lifting power’ of the bird immediately in front.”

Second Lesson: “If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed where we want to go (and be willing to accept their help as well as give ours to the others).”

3. Third Behavior: “When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies at the point position.”

Third Lesson: “It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership—with people, as with geese, we are interdependent on each other.

4. Fourth Behavior: “The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.”

Fourth Lesson: “We need to make sure our honking from behind is encouraging—and not something else.”

5. Fifth Behavior: “When a goose gets sick or wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it is able to fly again or dies. Then they launch out on their own, with another formation, or catch up with the flock.”

Fifth Lesson: “If we have as much sense as geese, we too will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.”

Successful people have great team-building skills. They know they’ll go twice as far with a good team surrounding them. The best team players are positive, creative and have good interpersonal skills.

To remind you of the power of team unity, the next time your hear that all-too-familiar honking and look up at the sky to see geese heading south for the winter while flying in the striking ‘V’ formation, you should remember why they fly that way and the valuable lessons we can learn from them about leadership and teamwork.

Become part of a team and then build your own!

Why Great Leaders Compromise

A leader needs to learn the art of compromise.  As former President Gerald Ford once said, “Compromise is the oil that makes governments go.”

Retired Judge Nelson Diaz learned that effective leaders also know that compromise and loyalty go hand in hand.  A White House Fellow during the Carter administration, Diaz was only the second person of Puerto Rican ancestry to ever work for the White House, and his principal was Vice President Walter Mondale.

Diaz had worked as an activist on economic development issues for poor minority communities in Philadelphia before his Fellowship.  He recalled that one day, he and Mondale were flying to Los Angeles on Air Force Two to plan a birthday party for President Carter when they heard a surprising announcement:  The President had just signed an arms sale agreement with Saudi Arabia.

Mondale did not know Carter was going to consent to such a deal, and he knew it would be extremely unpopular with the Jewish community, of which Mondale was a strong supporter.

“The Vice President had a choice to either turn the plane around or to continue on the trip,” Diaz said.  “Mondale consulted with Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan, who was also on the plane, and we decided not to plan the birthday party but rather to proceed to Los Angeles to meet with Jewish leaders.  When we got there the Jewish leaders were somewhat somber, but the vice president explained the genesis of President Carter’s decision to them and asked how we could be more responsive to their concerns.  He never gave a hint that he had no idea the deal was going to happen.  He made something positive come out of it.  I witnessed his loyalty to the President and his ability to compromise.  Having been an activist on the streets I hadn’t learned much about that, but on that trip I learned that sometimes half a loaf is better than no loaf at all.”

Diaz would convert that concept into action years later when he was tapped to be general counsel to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) by then Secretary Henry Cisneros.  Diaz and Cisneros met through the White House Fellows program in the 1970s.  Years after finishing his Fellowship, Diaz was working as a judge to reform Philadelphia’s court system by ridding it of a seven-year backlog and making changes that resulted in savings of $100 million.  When Cisneros, who had been mayor of San Antonio, Texas, was appointed HUD secretary by President Clinton, Cisneros called on his old friend Diaz to serve as general counsel.  “I didn’t want the job.  I didn’t want to go work for a friend, and I turned him down three times,” Diaz admitted. “But because I trusted Henry and he trusted me, and we were both White House Fellows, I ultimately decided to go ahead and take the job.  It turned out to be a very successful period.”

As General Counsel to HUD, Diaz used litigation settlements to implement Cisneros’ policies.  Diaz arrived at HUD during the most litigious period in the department’s history.  He resolved twenty-three major cases that had been pending for a decade, and hired as his deputy the lawyer who had brought more suits against HUD than anyone else.

“I wanted to demonstrate my willingness to be a listener and to develop a strong trust relationship so we could resolve all those cases,” Diaz said.  “And I was very aware that I had to use the art of compromise to resolve these very contentious cases.  During my time at HUD I also applied what I learned from Vice President Mondale about the need to be loyal to your principal.  Compromise and loyalty do go hand in hand.  I learned that you must do everything you can to directly and openly engage the individuals with whom you disagree.  However, loyalty demands that once a decision is made by the leader or a consensus is reached by the management team, you need to practice the art of compromise and proceed with the final decision as if it were your own.”

Whether you’re leading a business or a non-profit organization, a committee or a board, an athletic team or a family, you must learn when to compromise and when to stand firm.  Although it’s not possible to resolve every conflict through negotiation and concession, it is feasible in most cases.

The tougher decision is when not to compromise, which often puts your livelihood, your reputation, and the organization you lead at risk.  While a leader must clearly stand firm on matters of integrity, if you can resolve the matter through give and take, staying loyal to your core beliefs, then find the middle ground.  You’ll soon discover what Judge Diaz already knows:  Compromise is the art of making everyone a winner.

Sharing a Bourbon and Branch Water with LBJ

President Lyndon Johnson with Soviet Ambassador in the Oval Office (1966)

President Lyndon Johnson in the Oval Office with Soviet Ambassador (1966).

For a young man, Air Force Major John Pustay had already accomplished a lot. The New Jersey native had served as a military officer in South Korea and Japan, earned a doctorate and taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Although only one military officer had made it into the first class of fifteen White House Fellows in 1965, he decided to apply to the prestigious program anyway. After a grueling selection process, he was chosen in 1966. He was assigned to work for Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

President Johnson opened a window for Pustay to witness firsthand how our nation’s top leaders personally cope with the burdens of immense responsibility, impossible expectations and often-brutal public criticism

In his first month as a Fellow, Secretary Rusk sent him to the Oval Office to take notes for him at an impromptu meeting between President Lyndon Johnson and some of his most trusted foreign policy advisors. The Vietnam War was in full swing and the meeting was to discuss our response to an insurrection within South Vietnam’s leadership, and to select bombing targets in North Vietnam. Pustay recalled the small group huddled around LBJ: Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, and General Earle Wheeler, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The young major listened intently and took notes so he could give Secretary Rusk a proper briefing on the important meeting. “So everybody leaves, and I am the junior guy so I am going to be the last guy out,” Pustay recalled “And as I’m leaving the president taps me on the shoulder and he says, ‘Would you like to have a bourbon and branch water?’ I didn’t know what the heck branch water was, but if the Commander in Chief asks you to have bourbon and branch water, you probably ought to do it.”

The president summoned a steward who produced a bottle of bourbon and a pitcher of clear liquid. Pustay discovered – much to his relief – that “branch water” is just a Southern term for fresh water. The two men settled onto the sofa in the Oval Office, Pustay sipping his bourbon, the president his scotch and soda, while engaging in small talk for almost an hour. During a lull in the conversation, Pustay swirled the amber liquid in his glass and marveled at the fact that he was actually sitting in the Oval Office sharing a drink with the president. He smiled to himself and took another sip, enjoying the whiskey’s rich flavor and smoky aroma, and he was about to congratulate the president on his fine taste in bourbon when he looked up to see Johnson’s eyes welling with tears. “Mr. President,” Pustay said. “I didn’t realize, perhaps, the gravity of the situation we discussed in that meeting, and the decisions that you had to make there.”

“No, that’s not it,” Johnson said in his soft drawl. “I am very sad right now because this is still Jack Kennedy’s house. Jack had charm — he was witty, and handsome. And here I am, just a poor Texas school teacher, a dirt farmer. Since we got back from Dallas, the only one who has ever accepted me here at the White House is Lady Bird.”

Pustay sat with President Johnson, reflecting on the private thoughts of the man who dominated public life with the historic passage of sweeping Great Society legislation aimed at eliminating poverty and racial injustice. President Johnson continued to talk about some of the burdens of this great office. Starting to feel self-conscious that he was taking up too much of the president’s valuable time, Pustay said, “Sir, I think it’s probably time for me to leave.”

“Yeah, young man,” Johnson said. “You know, thanks for listening.”

Whether or not he intended it, President Johnson had opened a window for Pustay to witness firsthand how our nation’s top leaders personally cope with the burdens of immense responsibility, impossible expectations and often-brutal public criticism – a side of their essential humanity the general public rarely gets to see.

That experience showed Pustay early on that even the most powerful leaders are human, and at the core, it’s emotion that drives human behavior. It taught him that if you want to be a great leader you must have a laser-like focus on your people — so simple, yet easy to overlook. He recalled that lesson often throughout his distinguished military career. It undoubtedly helped guide him as he rose to the rank of three-star general, served as the lead advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and led the National Defense University as its president.

Far too many managers identify their organization by the product or service it provides. The fact is that we are in the people business — hiring, training and managing people to deliver the product or service we provide. If people are the engine of our success, then to be great leaders we have to put our people first.

Separate the Real Role Models from the Fakes

Jaime EscalanteYou can pursue your passion in life by finding a good mentor. You can pursue your goals by finding a good role model, and in turn, being a good role model yourself.

Although some athletes are excellent role models, I look for qualities beyond the ability to dribble a basketball or throw a football. I admire athletes who finish their college degree instead of taking the cash that comes with a pro contract.

I’d be much more inclined to view the athlete who drops out as a role model if he or she went back to school during the off-season. Either way, if they set the example of getting an education, I can live with them being paid 100 times more than what a public school teacher makes in a year. After all, they’re pursuing their passion, they give children who look up to them some sense of responsibility and they are making a good living at what they do.

Mike Haynes is an athlete I believe we all can admire. Haynes, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and one of the best defensive backs to ever play the game, was drafted in the first round by the New England Patriots in 1976.

He dropped out of college, but finished his degree in 1980. Haynes worked every off-season for fourteen years to prepare for life after football. Both on the field and off, Haynes set goals and objectives for himself. Haynes is now an executive with the Callaway Golf Company.

Regardless of our ethnicity or racial background, there are role models for all of us.

Role Models in Our Schools

More often than not, the real role models are in our schools, not on the football field, up on the movie screen, or singing at concerts.

In my mind, schoolteachers are the true stars of our society. The late Jaime Escalante is a magnificent role model and has been called the best teacher in America.

I admired Escalante long before I met him. When Escalante taught at Garfield High School, drug dealers were the role models for some of his students.

The people selling drugs had money and power, and this was what the students respected. Escalante sent the message that education is the far better route to success.

Thousands of people have fond memories of Marva Collins, whose passion is educating children. She believes strongly in staying true to the Latin meaning of “teacher,” which is to lead and draw out. Collins is determined to never lose one child. She has trained over 30,000 teachers and touched the lives of millions of children.

Teachers like Marva Collins help children to find new direction. A kind word of encouragement can motivate children to do more than they might have ever dreamed was possible. Teachers can open up a world of possibilities for a child.

David M. Shribman interviewed people from all walks of life. Everyone he talked with had an anecdote about a teacher who played an important role in his or her life. Whether the person was a good student or a bad one, and no matter what occupation they were in, all of them had a teacher who made a big difference in who they are today.

In the preface to his book I Remember My Teacher, Shribman said, “Those who can, do. Those who teach, do more.”

The best role models aren’t usually athletes, TV icons, rock stars or supermodels. The best role models are around us and in front of us every day. They are parents and teachers.

Role models should also be individuals who demonstrate qualities that contribute to good character development, who have a sense of ethics and morals, and who believe that success is more than just what is in your bank account, that what matters is what is inside you as a person.

Find your role models and become one yourself!

Create Success at Home

Creating and cultivating a culture of success is vital. This is true whether at work, in college, and at home, especially if you have children.

You can create a culture of success in your own home. Ask yourself what kind of messages you’re sending to your children.

Assuming your family sits down together at the dinner table, which is very important, ask yourself what messages you’re conveying to your kids. Are you conveying the message that hard work doesn’t get you anywhere and getting ahead is all about office politics, or are you teaching them positive lessons about being a success? Are you demonstrating the importance of integrity and honor by word and deed? Are you sending messages that encourage tolerance?

Even if your own workplace is less than ideal, don’t sour your children on the importance of hard work. Maybe you’re not getting the recognition you deserve at work, but your children should be recognized for their accomplishments. They should learn the value of teamwork, of seeing each family member working together toward a common goal.

As you pursue your passions, encourage your children to feel passionate about whatever excites them. Even if they pursue activities that you don’t necessarily approve of, don’t stand in their way.

My father wasn’t thrilled with my decision to apply to the Air Force Academy and pursue a military career, but he let me choose the path I wanted to follow.

All of us must pursue our passions, not those of our parents. Of course, that doesn’t mean parents must subsidize their children’s pursuit of their passions.

Andrea Jung, former CEO of Avon, received inspiring advice from her mother. Jung wrote that her mother said, “Girls can do absolutely anything that boys can do. A woman can reach any height in any discipline if she works hard enough.”

It is extremely important to create a culture of success in your own home. If you are single, then being a good and respectful son or daughter, and a good person to your brothers and sisters, will bring great joy to them and make your family proud.

If you have a spouse, then being faithful and considerate of each other, and treating your relationship as a team with a sacred trust will allow you to accomplish the most challenging goals in your life.

Not only are you your children’s role model, but put another way, you are their manager, and their boss. If your boss acts a certain way and wants you to emulate that behavior, you pretty much have to do it – or else look for another job.

Your children are in a similar position. You may want to fire them from time to time, but you’re both pretty much stuck with each other. Set the standard and watch them follow. Instill in them a sense of pride and passion for whatever it is they do. Show them the way, but ultimately let them choose their own path (they will anyway).

Just be sure you give them the tools to succeed when they reach that critical stage. The greatest gift you can give them is a moral compass — one built on integrity and honor.

Do it and I guarantee that they will make you proud!